Explaining the Johnson Amendment and Trump's 'religious liberty' executive order

Cheryl Sanders
May 8, 2017

For the second time in his short presidency, Donald Trump signed an executive order on religious liberty that's not almost as meaningful as his supporters and critics thought.

In a statement released Thursday a spokesperson for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints says an executive order signed by President Trump designated to promote religious liberty will have no sway on longstanding policy.

However, Congress still needs to rescind the Johnson Amendment, which prohibits any tax-exempt organization from endorsing any political candidate or participating in political campaigns. National Public Radio reports that the IRS has only invoked the Johnson Amendment once, using it to revoke the tax-exempt status of a church that took out a full-page newspaper advertisement opposing former president Bill Clinton in 1992.

It just directs the IRS and the health care system to exercise "maximum enforcement discretion" in levying penalties.

Senior Pastor at Church For All Nations, Mark Cowart, says he's already been speaking freely for the past five years since Pulpit Freedom Sunday.

The White House Press Secretary, Sean Spicer, however, refused to entertain questions on the executive order.

The order also asks the government to issue rules that would allow religious groups such as the Little Sister of the Poor to deny their employees insurance coverage for services that they oppose on religious grounds, such as birth-control pills.

He said he was giving churches their voices back.

"He's getting all kinds of brownie points from the religious right", Gaylor said.

In February at the National Prayer Breakfast, Trump promised to "destroy" the Johnson Amendment, saying that religious freedom was "under threat all around us" and that he's never "seen it so much and so openly as since I took the position of president".

The ACLU looked at Trump's religious liberty executive order and determined that it was fake news. But the Trump Administration's plan to secure religious liberty are drawing criticism from faith leaders and civil, human and reproductive rights groups.

Trump said on Thursday that the federal government has "used the power of the state as a weapon against people of faith".

"We will not allow people of faith to be targeted, bullied or silenced anymore", Trump said during the signing ceremony.

Founder of "Sikh Americans for Trump", Jasdip Singh alleged that for political reasons "certain vested sections" of the society and community members are blaming the President for the rise in hate crimes in the US. The Madison, Wisconsin-based group argues in the filing that the order is unconstitutional because it grants preferential treatment to religious organizations while secular groups must still abide by the law. The president's "Executive Order Promoting Free Speech and Religious Liberty" turns out to be mostly a restatement of the legal status quo combined with some ringing rhetoric about the importance of religious freedom.

Other reports by iNewsToday